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Australian policies formally put forward in ESOS Act amendment

After the announcement of a draft framework outlining a "soft cap" on international students, the education minister Jason Clare formally introduced a bill to parliament on May 16.
May 16 2024
5 Min Read

After the announcement of a draft framework outlining a “soft cap” on international students, the education minister Jason Clare formally introduced a bill to parliament on May 16.

Amendments were proposed to the Education Services for Overseas Students Act, which would give the government broader powers over the activities of agents and their interactions with providers in Australia.

The proposals in the bill, some of which have previously been announced separately, would enable the government to set enrolment limits on international students at individual institutions and pause applications for new international education providers for up to 12 months. 

The legislation takes aim at “the shonks and crooks looking to take advantage of students and make a quick buck at the expense of this critical national asset”, said Clare in a speech to parliament. 

“[Students] are back already [after the pandemic]. That’s a vote of confidence in our institutions and providers, and in Australia as a place where the best and brightest come to study. But it is also something we need to manage carefully and protect from bad actors – and that’s what this bill does,” he continued.

He detailed that the proposals “directly respond to issues identified in the Nixon and Migration Reviews”, bringing together a bulk of the new measures announced for 2024.

Proposed changes include giving the minister the power to pause applications for registration from new international education providers and new courses from existing providers for up to 12 months, some detail of which sits in the draft framework. 

Other changes include a “new definition of education agent” which better captures their activities.

The bill read, “It does not define an agent based on their relationship to a provider, as many agents do not have formal agreements or relationships with specific providers.

“Any full-time or part-time permanent officer or employee of the provider is also not captured in the definition, as these officers receive a salary and employment benefits from the provider. This is to ensure that employees who work for education providers that may undertake some, or all, of their own student recruitment activities internally, are not captured by the definition or subject to the additional obligations imposed on agents,” it further detailed.

Also put into the bill was a new definition of an education agent’s “commission”, allowing amendments to the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018, to formally ban commissions for being paid to agents for onshore switching.

Such a change was first proposed in late 2023.

Clare reassured stakeholders that any cap-like limits wouldn’t come into effect until January 2025, and that it would “consult with the sector on the implementation of the powers set out in the bill”.  

However, some providers – concerned about staff layoffs and potential campus closures – are frustrated by the lack of engagement from the government.  

“The government has written [the framework] without the usual sector collaboration on drafting to ensure clarity and positive, sustainable impact. We desperately need meaningful consultation on these changes to avoid catastrophic impacts,” English Australia CEO Ian Aird told The PIE.  

“We urge the government to let the changes already introduced to take effect and to work collaboratively with the sector on a sustainable future,” he added.  

The bill would also require new providers to deliver a course to domestic students for two years before they can apply to register to teach international students.  

Notably, the minister clarified that English-language courses and foundation programs would be exempt from this two-year requirement as they only deliver programs to international students.  

“The bill also helps build quality in the sector by enabling the automatic cancellation of a provider’s registration where it has not delivered a course to an overseas student over 12 consecutive months. 

“These providers are not demonstrating a commitment to international students and can be a vehicle for unscrupulous actors”

“These providers are not demonstrating a commitment to international students and can be a vehicle for unscrupulous actors to bypass registration requirements for entering the sector through the purchase of dormant providers,” added Clare.  

This follows recent amendments to the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 targeting integrity risks posed by dormant providers.

If passed, the legislation would enable the minister prevent providers under investigation from recruiting new students, and to suspend courses identified as having systemic quality issues.  

It would also improve the sharing of data relating to agents among providers and the government, with one advantage being that providers “don’t have to wait until data has been collected post-commencement” to inform their decision making, the bill added. 

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